Overdue books

In an effort to recoup funding lost with budget cuts, public libraries are assigning overdue library book collections to debt collection agencies. The New York Public Library has been doing this for at least three years — er, so I hear.

Back in 2000, I read that some Detroit libraries were issuing arrest warrants for overdue books.

Coral Gables LibraryThis news inspired a string of nightmares about the librarian at the Coral Gables Public Library, in Miami, with whom my mom picked a fight over a copy of Ramona Quimby, Age 8, which I, at 7, claimed that I’d returned.

In fact, I’d shoved the book into a small suitcase with a half-eaten tangerine. I’d been reading in my closet after my parents put me to bed. I wasn’t allowed to eat or get up (except to use the bathroom) once they tucked me in, and I heard my father’s footsteps in the hall and panicked.

I made it back to bed before he looked in to check on me. But I forgot about the tangerine and the book until my mom received an overdue notice in the mail two months later.

I went back to my bedroom and opened the suitcase. It and the book stank of mold. The tangerine was greenish-white and oozing brown liquid. I was afraid it would make me sick if I touched it. Back in the living room, I told Mom that I remembered dropping the book in the return slot.

Later, while she was napping, I filled the suitcase with rocks and threw it in the canal behind our house. I pushed it to the bottom with a cane fishing pole. Sometimes, at low tide, you can still see the corner of it next to a small, mushy island that appears beside the sea wall.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I see no reason to repeat myself less frequently on the blog than I do in person, so: my favorite short story about overdue library books is Grace Paley’s “Wants.


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